Technical writing

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Technical writing is a form of technical communication used in a variety of technical and occupational fields, such as computer hardware and software, engineering, chemistry, aeronautics, robotics, finance, consumer electronics, and biotechnology.

The Society for Technical Communication (STC) defines technical writing[1] as a broad field including any form of communication that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics: (1) communicating about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations; (2) communicating through technology, such as web pages, help files, or social media sites; or (3) providing instructions about how to do something, regardless of the task's technical nature.

Overview[edit]

Technical writing involves the creation of useful documents that can be clearly understood by readers. Good technical writing clarifies jargon, presenting useful information that is clear and easy to understand for the intended audience; poor technical writing may increase confusion by creating unnecessary jargon or failing to explain it. An important tool in technical writing is style, which is created by the decisions made on grammar, spelling (for example American or British English), choice of words, and punctuation.

Technical writing is performed by technical writers, who may be professionals or amateurs. These writers usually begin such work by learning the purpose of the document that they will create, gathering information from existing documentation and from subject-matter experts; technical writers need not be subject-matter experts themselves. A good technical writer needs strong language and teaching skills and must understand how to communicate with technology. Advanced technical writers often move into specialized areas such as API writing, document architecture, or information management.

Technical writing is often associated with online help and user manuals. It also includes product release notes, product troubleshooting guides, tutorials, installation guides, marketing documentation, e-learning modules, web content, legal disclaimers, business proposals, and white papers.

In certain industries such as healthcare and medical electronics, special technical design documents must be created in order to satisfy the demands of agencies like the Food and Drug Administration. These design documents can be extremely detailed, describing how a certain device performs at the bit and byte level if it is a computer controlled device. This kind of technical writing is usually performed by an engineer who can write and who understands these technical concepts at an engineering level. This kind of technical writing can be called "Engineering Writing" because the intended audience comprises other engineers, managers, and the relevant agency who is scrutinizing the documentation.

History[edit]

While the origins of technical writing can be traced to antiquity, Geoffrey Chaucer's Treatise on the Astrolabe has been called the first piece of technical writing in English.[2]

Technical writing came to be seen as a discipline in and of itself around the time of World War I, growing out of the need for technology-based documentation in the military, manufacturing, electronics, and aerospace industries. In 1953, two organizations concerned with improving the practice of technical communication were founded in the United States: the Society of Technical Writers, and the Association of Technical Writers and Editors. These organizations merged in 1957 to form the Society of Technical Writers and Editors, a predecessor of the current Society for Technical Communication.

Techniques[edit]

Technical writing involves analysis of a document's intended audience in order to translate complex technical concepts and instructions into a series of comprehensible steps that enable users to perform a specific task in a specific way. To present appropriate information, writers must understand the audience and their goals. For example, an audience of highly trained scientists will require less explanation of technical terms than a help guide intended for general audiences.

The writing also seeks to present an attractive layout for easy reading and comprehension. A writer must understand the medium typically used to view the final product. An HTML document, such as a web page, frequently has a different layout than a print document. The use of elements such as hyperlinks and animation will affect the content and form of the writing.[3][dead link]

Technical documents[edit]

Broadly speaking, technical documentation can be categorized into three types, depending on the style of writing, the level of knowledge transferred, and the target audience:

  1. End-user assistance documents help a user understand a software or hardware product. This includes user manuals for computer programs, household products, medical equipment, mobile phones, and other consumer electronics.
  2. Traditional technical documentation communicates to a specialized audience. Such documentation includes maintenance guides, repair manuals, engineering specifications, research papers, reference works, annual reports, and articles for technical journals.
  3. Marketing communication such as product catalogs, brochures, advertisements, introductory pages for web sites, and press releases are sometimes created by technical writers.

Tools[edit]

The following types of tools are typically used to author and present technical documents:

  1. Desktop Publishing Tools or Word Processors are used to produce printed manuals or digital documents in print format. Microsoft Word and Adobe FrameMaker are two tools commonly used by technical writers.
  2. Help Authoring Tools are used to create online help systems, which are either packaged with software products, delivered through a web browser or provided as files the user can view on their computer. Adobe RoboHelp, Author-it and HelpNDoc are commonly used tools.
  3. Wiki Systems are also used to produce technical documents, mainly for consumption within the organization but sometimes also for external users. MediaWiki and Atlassian Confluence are two commonly used platforms.

Associations[edit]

Professional associations for technical writing include:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]